ReelThoughts: April 29, 2007

"Where's the Damn Spider-Man 3 Review?"

Commentary by James Berardinelli


The "where" is actually a "when," and the answer to that question is sometime on Friday. The question that naturally follows is "why?" Why Friday, when half the movie-review websites already have the review posted and the rest will have it up within a few days?

Let me present the facts of the situation. Each reader can then draw his/her own conclusions.

- The local press screening of Spider-Man 3 occurred on the afternoon of April 23.
- Locally, on-line press were intentionally excluded from the invitation list.
- If you're not invited, you can't get in. (Been there, done that.)
- To the best of my knowledge, my local market was the only one in the United States where on-line press were excluded. I have spoken to on-line critics in other markets and they have had no problems with Sony or their local reps concerning this screening. It appears to be an isolated event, and I'm one of about four people being impacted by it.

This is the kind of incident I would have expected ten years ago when most studios and publicists knew little about the Internet and the guerilla tactics of sites like "Ain't It Cool News" taught them to fear what they didn't understand. Times have changed since then but the attitudes and business practices of some people remain rooted in the pre-Internet days.

It should be noted that most of those working in the marketing and publicity wing of the motion picture industry are savvy enough to accord Internet critics the same level of respect given to print and television journalists, which is as it should be. Just because something is relatively new doesn't mean it should be marginalized. Unfortunately, there are still some "old school" individuals who believe that if it doesn't show up in a major daily newspaper, it's not worthy of their attention. And some of those people are in positions of power.

Twenty or thirty years from now, this will all be moot. The print media is dying a slow death. Magazines and newspapers will never disappear entirely, but falling circulation numbers will result in their diminished relevance. Even now, nearly every major newspaper in the United States is undergoing an erosion in readership. Where are those readers going to get their news and information? The Internet. When film critics retire or are laid off, they are either being replaced in-house or not at all. Venerable magazines such as Premiere close down the print side and go entirely on-line.

Where a lack of respect for on-line journalists exists, it's a result of the fear of progress. Individuals have developed power bases within a structure that is beginning to decay. Rather than trying to reposition themselves for the future - an action the requires work and forward thinking - they hunker down and try their best to maintain the status quo. Such an approach will work for only so long. Eventually they'll be crushed underfoot.

Every working critic understands this. Even the highest paid print critics, isolated to some degree by preferential treatment, are aware of it. But ten years of fighting for equal access for on-line critics has left me exhausted. It's ironic that my home base has ended up becoming one of the last bastions of critic segregation. Is it frustrating? Of course. But it's like fighting gravity. There comes a point when you realize that change will only come when someone exits the business by one means or another.

The reality is that I get to see most movies before they're released. That enables me to do my job effectively. Instances like Spider-Man 3 are rare, but it's irksome that they exist at all. My finger isn't pointed at anyone in particular but at the industry as a whole for being selectively blind and slow to react.

So what about Spider-Man 3? While I'm of the opinion that nothing I write about any summer blockbuster will change anyone's decision about seeing or not seeing it, I know people are curious about what I think and how I react. As a result, I'll see the movie at the opening midnight showing and write the review late into the night. Hopefully, by dawn's early light, it will be available.


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